Cowboys’ La’el Collins suspended five games for violation of league substance abuse policy

Written by on September 11, 2021

The Dallas Cowboys were forced to take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers without starting right guard Zack Martin, who sits on the COVID/Reserve list after testing positive, and might now be without another starting offensive lineman for a much longer period of time. La’el Collins, the club’s definitive starter at right tackle, has been suspended for five games for violation of the league’s substance abuse policy — sources tell CBS Sports — striking a massive blow to the offensive front in Dallas. For while Martin will likely be on the field for Week 2 against the Los Angeles Chargers, Collins’ suspension could sideline him through Week 6.

Collins can appeal the decision and seek either an overturn or a reduction, but that will be in the hands or an arbitrator, who has already ruled in favor of the league but there is an additional appeals right Collins possesses per the collective bargaining agreement that sources say he intends to pursue. In other words, it’s not yet final, so put a pin in it for the moment, and the Cowboys having a mini-bye week before taking on the Chargers gives added days to sort it all out.

The league alleges Collins missed mandatory drug screenings, versus actually testing negative for an illegal substance. Details are still coming in on the matter, including why it’s five games instead of four or six, muddying the accusations that much more.

Until the matter is resolved, it’ll be backup swing tackles Ty Nsekhe and Terence Steele carrying the water at right tackle, and that’s a sizable drop off from what Collins does at the position. Nsekhe was brought in on a one-year deal in free agency ahead of the 2021 NFL Draft, and Steele is a former undrafted free agent who struggled mightily as a rookie in 2020 — having also not shown great strides in this year’s training camp or preseason. This creates a vacuum at the right edge in front of Prescott, and with a very capable set of defensive fronts coming their way over the next five games. Nsehke himself struggled in preseason before missing time with a knee injury, but the team says he’s 100 percent healthy and must now hope he can be a strong starter for them, which is something they’ve struggled at locating over recent seasons.

They tried their hand at moving Martin to right tackle in 2020, putting Connor McGovern as starting right guard (as they did on Thursday night with McGovern), but sliding Martin out remains a “break glass in case of emergency” decision in Dallas. Problem is, however, this feels like just that: an emergency.

As such, it might be discussed, but likely not until/unless they’re forced into that move by poor play over the next couple of games from Nsekhe and Steele. Should he be forced into the full brunt of the suspension, it’ll be quite the unpleasant start to the season for a player who didn’t take a single snap in 2020 due to injury. 

Collins battled neck stingers that threatened to keep him out of the season opener, but he was able to beat those into submission, and must now figure out how to do the same to the league’s front office, or the team won’t see him again until he’s allowed to return and prep for the their matchup with the Minnesota Vikings on Oct. 31.

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